Ethan Hawke thought Nick Nolte was going to play dirty cop
Ethan Hawke says he received the wrong information about who he would play with when he was first sent the script. training dayAntoine Fuqua’s gritty crime drama was released 20 years ago, on October 5, 2001.
“I remember someone mistakenly told me that Nick Nolte was playing the part,” Hawke told Us during a 2014 Role reminder interview before delivering his best impression of the grizzled 48 hours. star (look above, with training day from 2:52). “And that seemed like kind of an obvious part of Nick Nolte. You know, the dirty cop and the beer cans. … You can imagine Nick doing it all.
The party in question was Det. Alonzo Harris (as the character would eventually be called), a corrupt but decorated LAPD narcotics officer who puts his fresh-faced new partner Jake Hoyt through the wringer as they survey the streets of Los Angeles’ dirty underbelly. According to IMDb, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Gary Sinise and Tom Sizemore have all been offered the role at times, but not Nolte.
Of course, the role went to Denzel Washington, whose fire-breathing performance as Harris earned him what many thought would be his first Best Actor Oscar. (Washington previously won Best Supporting Actor for Glory in 1990.)
“When I heard it was going to be Denzel, I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to a whole new level,'” said Hawke, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role. “It’s not that Nick Nolte isn’t one of my favorite actors, because he is. But I had seen Nick play that role.
“It was a very dangerous thing at this point in his career for Denzel to play a bad guy. Here he was about to be the Sidney Poitier of his generation. You know, he was being harassed by the NAACP that he shouldn’t be playing a villain and stuff like that. And he’s a guy who not only did it, he went all the way.
During a 2015 Q&A with students from the School of Film & TV at Loyola Marymount University, Hawke explained the blowback his co-star received from the NAACP.
“The NAACP came on set and said, ‘What are you doing? ‘” Hawke said. “And you know, I’ve never had a political organization talk to me about the roles I choose. And Denzel, I remember he said, ‘What, Al Pacino can play a bad guy. Gene Hackman can play a villain. I can’t play a villain? I’m an artist. That’s how I direct, not by being a dubious role model by only playing irreproachable people. I will be a role model by being excellent at my job. You know now that it is impressive for me obviously.
In an ironic twist, Washington ultimately won Best Actor at the NAACP Image Awards for training day. As for the big Oscar win, Hawke says he saw it coming from their early rides.
“I knew he was going to win the Oscar,” Hawke told us. “I knew that around day three. I remember thinking that if I didn’t screw up the movie, it would win the Oscar.
“It was one of the great pleasures of my life to kind of sit on this movie. It felt like my job was to literally throw baseballs at home plate so he could make them getting out of the park every day. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had doing a movie.
Watch part 1 of our Role Recall interview with Ethan Hawke: